Building Empathy & Understanding with the Knowsy Board Game

On April 18, 2015, the Conteneo team facilitated a session on the California drought, “Let’s Talk Water,” at the annual Redwood City-San Mateo County Chamber of Commerce Progress Seminar. Robert Bell, former San Mateo City Manager, was one of the organizers and sat down with us recently to discuss the session, and how the Knowsy Board Game was used to build empathy and allow people who had only just met to tackle such a complex issue. (For those not in the know, Conteneo’s Alignment Engine is the online and business-focused evolution of the Knowsy Board Game and consumer iPad app.)

Conteneo: What was the purpose of the Knowsy “Let’s Talk Water” Session?:

Robert Bell: Once a year, at the annual Progress Seminar, San Mateo County community, business ProgressSeminar_Signand government leaders get the chance to come together to learn, share and discuss successes and ideas for the future of our region.  For this year’s event, we decided to invite the Conteneo team to host a number of breakout sessions using Knowsy in order to help participants talk about a complex issue we are facing–the California drought–and to experience an innovative way to catalyze meaningful conversations to increase empathy, connection and understanding.

Did Knowsy accomplish this?
The Knowsy Board Game was fantastic. We ran four sessions, each very well attended and what surprised everyone was how effectively the game’s structure helped attendees both talk about the topic, and learn about what others thought — without the typical difficulties that groups have in making sure everyone is both heard and has time to share their ideas. Laura Richardson, our facilitator, asked each session’s attendees at the end how many felt they knew the people at their table better than the neighbors on their own street. The question did get many laughs, but the reality is that nearly everyone in the room agreed that the game structure really helped them get to know the 6 or 7 people at their table better and faster than they know folks on their own block.

When do you think Knowsy works best?
For people to come together to tackle tough problems, whether in business or in their communities, people need to gain a certain level of empathy and understanding for those they need to work with. I’m convinced that Knowsy can be a key part in creating an effective environment where people can move beyond soundbites and superficial exchanges and actually gain empathy and understanding about the groups they are in. This is really the foundation for solution-building.

So the Progress Seminar participants really enjoyed it too?
The Knowsy sessions received the highest evaluations from the participants, many of whom said that participating helped them make important connections with other attendees, which is one of the primary reasons people attend!

 


San Jose Residents Play 4th Annual Budget Games

In January 2014, San José, CA residents had a chance to influence their city’s forthcoming budget by playing games. Representatives from San José Neighborhood Associations and the Neighborhoods Commission and Youth Commission joined 100s of their fellow residents  to share their perspectives and opinions regarding budgeting priorities for the City of San José. This year’s event was the fourth annual Budget Games, produced by Conteneo for the City of San José, and included, for the first time, online games to expand game play  to 100s more San José residents. (And was supported by Microsoft through  it’s donation of 100+ Surface Tablets for the event.)

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Putting the Fun in Participatory Budgeting
The goal for the Budget Games is the same as other participatory budgeting initiatives — provide citizens with the ability to participate in their government’s budgeting process and provide city officials with actionable insight as they make the difficult decisions about city resources.

Since 2011, Conteneo has produced a specialized version of its “Buy a Feature” game for the City of San José. These Budget Games have been used to engage neighborhood leaders regarding priorities for spending, tradeoffs, and budget cuts for the City’s annual $2.9 billion budget. During the second year of Budget Games, 80% of the recommendations generated by participants were adopted and integrated into the City’s budget.

“Resident input is critical to San José’s community-based budget process,” said Mayor Chuck Reed. “When we’ve had shortfalls, our priority setting session provided early input to help rank difficult choices.

“More recently, we’ve added police officers, restored funding for gang prevention and intervention, and opened shuttered library branches based on feedback from our community.”

2014 Results: Budget Matters
This year residents who played both the in-person and online games were given 24 hypothetical funding proposals and the budget expected from a proposed ¼ cent or ½ cent sales tax ($34M and $68M) and were asked to purchase the items that were most important to them. Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) representing Police, Fire, Parks, Recreation and Neighborhood Services, Libraries, Budget and other disciplines, answered questions related to proposals during the game, as requested by the players. The games were facilitated by Conteneo’s global team of Certified Collaboration Architects, who donated their time for the event.

Road repair, fire and police department staffing, funding of community centers and public library hours are among the topics that residents prioritized during the 13 in-person games and 21 online games. Analysis of game results revealed that residents of San Jose continue to be concerned about public safety, gang and crime prevention, and that game “purchases” correlate with the available budget. Residents who played the game with potential revenue from the larger tax increase purchased more expensive items, made more solo purchases and invested more in pavement maintenance and a contingency reserve.  See the final Budget Games Results here.

“Like many cities, San José continues to face difficult budget situations that require tough prioritizations with direct effects on San José residents,” said Luke Hohmann, CEO and founder of Conteneo. “In the past, these effects have included reduced community services, employee layoffs and pay cuts, and deferred maintenance to balance the budget.

“Along with the city, we strongly believe that residents should have a voice in this process since budget decisions can make a big difference in the quality of life for all members of the community.”

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Check out Luke Hohmann’s presentation to the City of San Jose on the results here.

To bring Budget Games to your community, contact Conteneo.

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Innovation Games as Story Listening

I recently completed an unusually fun project: Paul Mantey from NetApp invited me, and my colleague and Certified Collaboration Architect John Heintz from Gist Labs, to make a series of short, educational films for the NetApp sales team. John covered Agile and DevOps, Paul presented NetApp’s completely unique value proposition for Agile DevOps, and Paul and I discussed how NetApp’s Impact Discovery Workshops, which are powered by Innovation Games® collaboration frameworks, radically change the sales process. It was a lot of fun hanging out in the NetApp film studios–Green screens! Super cool video gear! “On Air” signs!

NetApp’s Cathie Staley moderated and helped produce our sessions. In one session, Cathie interviewed Paul and myself on the art of story telling in sales. Our focus was on helping strategic account managers use stories to connect NetApp value propositions and market differentiating features to customer needs. And I loved this session because it allowed Paul and myself to make a full-circle link between the storytelling that shares value propositions in a compelling way and the story listening that is the foundation of the Innovation Games® collaboration frameworks.[separator type=’transparent’ color=” thickness=’1′ up=” down=”]

Beware PowerPoint Paula and the What and Why? Guy

Two of my favorite negative salesperson stereotypes are PowerPoint Paula and the What and Why? Guy. PowerPoint Paula blows into your office, demands an overhead projector, and then proceeds to bore you to tears with her carefully rehearsed slide deck. Her carefully rehearsed stories (cue customer story 3 on slide 7) is what I call a “show up and throw up”. Paula shows up, throws up slides — and you simply want to vomit.

The What and Why? Guy is at the other end of the spectrum. He comes into the office with a notebook, a pen and a set of questions that always seem to end in Why: “What do you need? Why?” or “What are your strategic priorities? Why?” or “What can we improve? Why?” At best, the What and Why Guy is sincere (albeit creepily sincere). At worst, the What and Why Guy is merely interrogating you in an effort to close a deal.

In stark contrast to this are the approaches that Paul Mantey is pioneering at NetApp and Kevin Parker is taking at Serena.[separator type=’transparent’ color=” thickness=’1′ up=” down=”]

Changing Complex Sales Through Story Listening

A NetApp Impact Discovery Workshop is a structured workshop in which NetApp customers play tailored Innovation Games® collaboration frameworks to identify high impact business opportunities. In the process, the NetApp account team and NetApp partner sales and service teams gain a deep and thorough knowledge of customer needs.

The key is that these workshops are designed to allow customers to tell their stories. And when customers are telling stories, NetApp is learning what is really needed to serve them.

For example, in one workshop NetApp customers played Speed Boat to identify the anchors that would prevent them from rapidly deploying a new production system. By asking customers to draw their own boat, describe their destination, and then identify the anchors that might prevent them from moving quickly, NetApp was able to create an environment that allowed customers to tap into their true goals. By simply asking customers to share stories about their anchors, NetApp was able to identify a significant number of opportunities.[separator type=’transparent’ color=” thickness=’1′ up=” down=”]

Creating Alignment on Priorities Through Knowsy®

Every salesperson involved in a complex sale will tell you that to close a complex sale you must do at least two things: You must determine the priorities of each person, and you must create alignment on a shared set of priorities that will drive the sale. While most successful salespeople go about this process a bit more effectively than the “What and Why? Guy”, the reality is that determining decison-maker priorities in a complex sale is not all that much fun. Until now.

The Social IT Game is Serena’s game to identify IT buyer priorities in a complex sale. Powered by the our Alignment Engine (aka the Knowsy® platform), The Social IT Game turns the act of identifying and understanding the degree of alignment that exists within a team with a super fun game. And once a salesperson has a group of decision makers talking with each other about their shared priorities, they know that a deal is in the making. Check out Kevin Parker’s video explaining this game.[separator type=’transparent’ color=” thickness=’1′ up=” down=”]

Becoming a Better Story Listener

Everyone who has taken a Certified Collaboration Architect course featuring Innovation Games® from one of our qualified instructors  learns that one of the most important aspects of an Innovation Game® is the way that the collaboration framework induces the participants to tell stories while participating. More precisely, we strive to teach Facilitators how to induce stories during the forums, we discuss how Observers should be listening to stories, and we even lightly explore what kinds of stories each forum is likely to produce.

And while there are a lot of articles and books about becoming a better story teller, to build truly innovative products and services, you need to become a better story listener. Here are some suggestions on how to improve your story listening skills.
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  • Match the collaboration framework that you’re using to the stories you want to hear. If you want stories that explain relationships, consider Spider Web. If you want stories of an uninhibited future, or stories that capture the passions of your customers, consider Product Box. Stories of how adversity was overcome can be motivated by Remember the Future.
  • Listen for stereotypic story structures. Here are some common structures: I need (feature or capability) {so that, in order to, because} I want to accomplish (goal). My friends in the Agile community will recognize this as the User Story format, which is a great way to capture and communicate requirements. The key difference, however, is that in this post a Product Owner isn’t just sitting down and generating a lot of user stories. Instead, the user stories are generated directly by your customers through game play.
  • Let the rules of the framework you’re playing help you draw out stories from your players. Consider a common scenario: Branden, a Product Manager for a car company, is playing several online Buy a Feature collaboration frameworks with customers to help them prioritize their product backlog. During one forum, Branden notices that Susanne has made a significant bid on a new feature which allows the car to be configured so that it can automatically send signals to devices like garage doors to open them when the car is within a preconfigured distance of a specified location. This bid positions Brendan to learn more about the reasons this feature is so important and the conditions or requirements of acceptance by using the structure of the framework to get the stories that drive requirements.

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Branden: Susanne, you’ve made a substantial bid on the automatic arrival feature .What can you say to the other player’s to convince to join you?
Susanne: C’mon everyone — get the automatic arrival. It’s cool.
Ming: Susanne, don’t put your money there — buy the MPG monitor instead. We all need to save gas.
Satish: I agree — gas savings are really important.
(Brendan, whispering to Susanne): It looks like the other players are interested in saving gas. You’re going to have to work a bit harder to convince them.
Susanne: I agree that saving gas is important.
Susanne: But I live a kinda bad neighborhood so I installed an alarm system. Sometimes I forget to turn it off properly when I get home, so we get false alarms. If my car could somehow tell my home when I’ve arrived, I’d feel safer.

The important point is that it was the rules of the framework that motivated Susanne to tell a mini story on why a feature was important to her. This information can be used in a number of ways: determining the requirements of home alarm system interactions, improving marketing messages, developing more compelling personas, building patent fences around novel technologies, and so forth.[separator type=’transparent’ color=” thickness=’1′ up=” down=”]

Making Your Move

While the popular press is motivating you to tell better stories, we think you might find that listening creates even better results. What’s your take? Let us know at info@conteneo.co.